South Carolina Turkey Season Fast Approaching

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An estimated 50,000 hunters will take to the woods during the upcoming turkey season, generating an estimated $30 million in direct expenditures for South Carolina's economy.

The 2009 wild turkey season runs April 1 through May 1 for all Wildlife Management Areas where turkey hunting is allowed and on private lands in 34 counties that make up Game Zones 1-5. The season opens March 15 and runs through May 1 on private lands only in Game Zone 6: Allendale, Bamberg, Barnwell, Beaufort, Berkeley, Calhoun, Charleston, Colleton, Dorchester, Hampton, Jasper and Orangeburg counties.

More information on wild turkeys including how to order turkey tags online, the 2009 Turkey Brochure, the 2008 Summer Turkey Brood Survey or the results from the 2008 spring gobbler season,, also get more information on turkey age and sex determination.

Hunters in Game Zone 6 should note that the season will open on Sunday, March 15 not Saturday, March 14. The old law that provided for hunting on Saturday when the season opening date fell on Sunday was repealed last year by the General Assembly at the request of DNR. The opening date falling on Sunday, a situation that arose only every seven years, created confusion among hunters and presented problems with dates on printed materials that DNR publishes. This law was a carry-over from a time during which many people did not hunt on Sunday and when Sunday hunting of big game was actually prohibited in certain parts of the state. In the future, the season for all species of game will open on the date specified by law regardless of whether a Sunday is involved.

Saturday, March 28 is Youth Turkey Hunt Day in areas where the season opens on April 1. On this day, youths 17 and under who are accompanied by a properly licensed adult (age 21 and older) may hunt turkeys. Only the youth can take or attempt to take turkeys. Tagging requirements remain in place for this special youth day.

This year, most hunters will receive their turkey tags by mail during the weeks before the season opens. Hunters can also order tags online. For those hunters who do not get tags by mail, handwritten tags and the 2009 Turkey Brochure will be available the first week in March at DNR offices and some local businesses that were formerly Big Game Check Stations. Tags are free and the brochure describes all areas open for hunting, current regulations, and special restrictions for certain Wildlife Management Areas. Turkey hunting regulations apply to both public and private lands in most cases. No turkey hunting is permitted on any Wildlife Management Area not listed in the spring turkey brochure. To obtain a copy by mail write: Spring Turkey Brochure, DNR, PO Box 167, Columbia, SC 29202, call the DNR Columbia office at (803) 734-3886.

Hunters are reminded that although they must still possess and use turkey tags, taking harvested turkeys to check stations is not required. Hunters will also notice that turkey tags now include security features that require the hunter to notch or mark the day and month of kill when tagging their gobbler.

The outlook for the 2009 spring season is only fair for most areas, according to Charles Ruth, DNR Deer and Turkey Project supervisor. As was the case the last three years, it appears that wild turkey reproduction was less than desirable in many regions based on the annual brood survey conducted by DNR last summer. Although average brood size was good with hens averaging 4.2 poults, 49 percent of hens observed had no poults at all by late summer leading to a total recruitment ratio of 2.1, which is the minimum level needed to sustain the population. Recruitment ratio is a measure of young entering the population based on the number of hens in the population.

"In the Southeast," Ruth said, "weather often plays a big role in turkey populations with heavy rainfall coupled with cool temperatures during the spring nesting and brood rearing season leading to poor reproductive success. However, that does not appear to be the case last year because those types of events were not widespread across the state. Clearly there may have been broods lost due to strong thunderstorms at the local level; however this does not explain what can be considered only fair reproduction at the statewide level.

"On the other hand, last summer was extremely dry throughout much of the state, and although dry conditions are typically good for turkey reproduction, extreme drought negatively impacts production of food in the form of seeds and insects and vegetative growth that is important brood rearing cover. At the regional level it appears that reproduction was poorest in the piedmont and mountains and increased slightly moving towards the lower coastal plain. This trend follows the pattern of drought that the state is experiencing."

What does poor reproduction by turkeys mean for the spring turkey hunter? Ruth said: "With poor reproduction the last few years the number of mature gobblers (2 years and older) available during the spring of 2009 will likely be lower across much of the state. Not only is the number of adult gobblers expected to be down in 2009, the survey results indicate that the number of jakes (immature gobblers) will be lower as well. The summer brood survey has documented poor reproduction the last few years, and it is supported by a decline in turkey harvest each year. The statewide turkey population is estimated at 90,000 birds, which is good, but obviously lower than when reproduction is optimal.

"The bottom line," Ruth said, "is that we need a couple of years of better reproduction to overcome poor reproduction the last few years."

DNR protects and manages South Carolina's natural resources by making wise and balanced decisions for the benefit of the state's natural resources and its people.